By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — The Linwood Cemetery is in the process of expanding. But not in a way you might think.
Trustees of the historic pre-Civil War cemetery say the growing popularity of cremation led them to want to provide a place where urns can be safely kept forever. A place where loved ones can visit and where future generations can pause to remember those family members who came before them.
Construction of a roughly 120-foot long granite wall just inside the cemetery’s main entrance off Mill Street is underway and work should be complete by this winter, with a planned opening early next year.
”More and more people these days are being cremated and want a place where they can have their name in perpetuity,” said David Splaine, president of the board of trustees of the Proprietors of Linwood Cemetery. “They may want to have some of their ashes scattered, and some folks will take a small amount to a favorite place, such as the beach or at several different places, and sometimes there are ashes remaining. They’ll buy a niche, a place to put the ashes that will be there forever.”
Splaine said this will be the first structure of its kind in the Greater Haverhill area.
The structure will serve as a repository with about 1,100 niches in single and double urn sizes. Somewhat similar in design to safe deposit boxes, each niche will have a one-foot square granite plate affixed to its front and inscribed with the name or names of the deceased, cemetery trustees said.
“What we’re doing is responding to increasing demand for cremations,” Splaine said. “We have limited space at Linwood for traditional lot burials, which require real estate. While we do have additional lots available, by building a stone wall with niches in it we’re able to increase the number of people we can bury in the cemetery.”
Called a columbarium, a term used for a place where urns are typically kept for respectful and public display, Linwood Cemetery has one that is integrated into a wall of a room just inside the entrance to their offices, chapel and crematory building on John Ward Avenue. It has about 50 or so spaces for urns and has brass plaques noting the names of the deceased.
”People come to our indoor columbarium to pray and leave flowers,” said Gordon Stone, a member of the cemetery’s board of trustees who also is involved in marketing the cemetery.
The Linwood Cemetery dates back to 1830 and became a private, nonprofit corporation in 1845, more than a decade before the start of the Civil War in 1861.
”We’ve had architects, engineers and others involved in this project and I’m not aware of anything like it in the area,” Stone said about the planned columbarium.
The structure is being built along the side of a hill that is just inside the Mill Street entrance to the property and behind a waterfall structure. Landscaping accents will be part of the design and granite benches will be installed for visitors.
”This is a way to respond to an increasing demand and do it in a tasteful way that respects the existing landscaping and allows us to keep up with the times,” Splaine said. “It’s a very beautiful cemetery we take great pride in maintaining it.”
Splaine said the decision to create such a columbarium stemmed in part from the natural landscape of the cemetery.
”Part of it is we were blessed with geography that provided us with a slope that invited a wall of some sort, and niches made a lot of sense to put in there,” Splaine said. “And we’ve designed to blend in so that five years from now it will look like it’s been there for decades.”
Splaine said more and more people are choosing to be cremated at end of life instead of buried in a traditional way.
He said reasons include the lower cost and convenience of cremation, as well as a comfort level.
”When we were growing up it was rare that someone would be cremated,” Splaine said. “I think there is greater social acceptance of cremations now.”
”The message we’re trying to get out is that we’re a consumer product and we must respond to changes in people’s preferences,” Splaine said. “We know there is an increase in cremations and people are looking for places to put the remains and have a permanent record for their family’s legacy.”